Dark Apparition at a glance:

  • Dark Apparation is a Russian Imperial Stout brewed by Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery in Athens, Ohio.
  • Dark Apparition is available year-round in Ohio and is released in 375 ml bottles. This bottle has been in the Hop Culture cellar for about two years.
  • The beer is a 10.5% ABV Russian Imperial Stout brewed with 2200 pounds of malt. It has notes of chocolate, coffee, roast, dark fruit, and caramel.

The Story:

Among the Hop Culture team, Jackie O’s is a perennial favorite. The “hype” train might have missed Athens, Ohio, but Jackie O’s produces some of the most well-crafted, thoughtful beers in the country. From spot-on barleywines to complex, rustic farmhouse ales, the brewery makes wonderful beers that excite brewers, critics, and beer lovers alike.

I have fond memories of encountering Jackie O’s in the wild. There was the time I enjoyed a bottle of Oil of Aphrodite late in the evening with beer writer and photographer Cory Smith at Gold Star Beer Counter. Another time, danced at a bar in Columbus, Ohio, while Johnny Clift, Jackie O’s brand ambassador, spun some records. Good times tend to follow a Jackie O’s beer.

I’d seen the short, dark, mysterious bottle of Dark Apparition in the Hop Culture beer cellar for a while. (One of my first photos for Hop Culture was actually a shot of the bottle, unopened, in a pile of snow.) I wasn’t worried if it would be good. I was curious how good it’d be.

So, I cracked it open for this edition of “From the Cellar” and sat down to shoot some questions over to Jackie O’s. I learned this unassuming beer — unencumbered by adjuncts or barrel-aging — has a storied history at the Athens brewery.

“Dark Apparition was the first Imperial Stout brewed at Jackie O’s,” shares former Director of Brewing Operations Brad Clark. “The goal was to capture the flavors and aromas of dark chocolate, toasted caramel, dark fruit, and rich coffee.”

At the time, it seems Clark was aiming to cement Dark Apparition as a legendary Jackie O’s beer.

“Beers like Dark Lord and Darkness were at the top of the beer lists at the time, in 2007, and we wanted the name to tap into those beers and also touch on the haunted lore of Athens, Ohio,” he explains. “Dark Apparition was a great fit and has stuck for over 12 years now.”

Since that initial release 12 years ago, Dark Apparition has been iterated upon countless times; it became the building block for several of the brewery’s most revered beers.

“Over the years, we’ve used Dark Apparition as a vehicle for experimentation,” shares Seth Morton, current Director of Brewing Operations. “The cognac barrel-aged version we did for our anniversary a few years ago really takes the top spot for me. For our 15 year anniversary in 2020, we’re planning on releasing an ‘imperial’ barrel-aged Dark Apparition.”

“When it was first released, locals and people from neighboring cities and states came to try it,” Clark adds. “It was well received and led to many different treatments and barrel aged variants. It has proven to be the most versatile beer in the Jackie O’s catalog.”

As contemporary drinkers seek out pastry stouts with a laundry list of added ingredients, it’s comforting to find that a “simple” beer like Dark Apparition persists. It might not be a grail of a beer — just swing by the taproom to get yourself a bottle — but its depth of flavor and enduring quality brings fans back time and time again.

What Dark Apparition is like:

  • Pours jet-black with a creamy, tan head.
  • Dark chocolate and coffee on the nose, but there’s a slight sweetness, too.
  • Roasty coffee and toffee flavors dominate the taste.
  • There’s a hint of spice and dark fruit.
  • Surprisingly, this is a fairy easy drinking stout. As it warms, a caramel/toffee sweetness coats the tastebuds.

Final Thoughts:

Dark Apparition is a great beer. It’s not as showy as modern pastry stouts but is still full of fantastic flavor. I imagine the dark fruit and herbal notes would’ve been more pronounced in a fresh bottle, but the chocolate and coffee flavors were exquisite and mature.

“I really enjoy hanging onto non-barrel-aged stouts for a few years, drinking them vertically, and looking back on how the brewery has changed over the years,” Morton says. “I recently had a 2014 Dark Apparition, and it was delicious! Barrel-aged beers are a bit different. To me, those present best as soon after the packaging date as possible. We take care of the cellaring for you.”

Dark Apparition is an accessible, eye-opening stout. It introduces you to the world of imperial stouts and shows you the potential doors you can walk through. Add vanilla beans? Sure! Age in apple brandy barrels? Why not? The options are endless. Just don’t forget where you started.

“Dark Apparition has my heart forever, for many reasons,” Morton shares. “It was the first beer I helped Brad mash in at the brewpub eight years ago. It was the beer I was drinking when we watched, on our local public access channel, when city council approved a zoning variance to allow us to build our production brewery. It was the first imperial stout I brewed as a professional brewer. It’s the beer I have the most emotional connection to of anything we brew.”

Catch Jackie O’s at Juicy Brews Art Gallery in Chicago, IL on July 20th. Tickets available here.

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